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Restorative Practices Help Create a Positive, Inclusive Learning Environment

Before the school year began, staff at Jones Elementary started their professional development to implement restorative practices at the school. 

“A restorative practice is more of a way to try to help students understand the impact of their behaviors. Not just you showed a behavior – here’s your consequence. We want them to be able to recognize the impact of it,” said Principal Bradley Griffin.

This is a move away from a punitive model of discipline. Teachers and staff are motivated to find the root of the behavior rather than focus on the punishment.

“What happened? What were you feeling at that time? What caused you to want to do that? What happened as a result of that behavior? It hurt people’s feelings, or it caused a ruckus. Then, just get them to show ownership of it. What was your part of this? What can we do better next time? Then we make a plan,” explained Principal Griffin.

“We always want to give that pep talk at the end. This happened, but guess what? We’re starting all over now. We don’t have to keep moving on in that direction. We can turn this around so how are we going to do that?”

These restorative conversations will be had with students off all ages – from pre-K to 6th grade. If the discussion isn’t enough, then the student will spend time with a buddy teacher. First grade through sixth grade students will receive reflection sheets during this time. For first and second graders, this paper will ask their name, what happened, and how they are feeling. The older kids’ sheets go into greater detail, so they are able to think about the situation on a deeper level.

As they go through the year, staff will introduce new aspects of restorative practices like peer mediation. This will allow students who are in conflict to sit down and discuss what is going on with a classmate serving as the mediator.

Griffin says with these practices in place, he is already seeing students take more ownership of their behaviors and the frequency is declining. He hopes this will lead to a decrease in referrals for the whole school year.

“I don’t think that any child ever shows behaviors just because they feel like doing that. It is a need that has not been met, and we have to dig down deep to find out what need is not met so we can try to meet those needs. Are you hungry? What happened this morning before you got to school? There are all kinds of things that cause children to show behaviors, and normally it’s not just because they want to,” he said.

He said it also gives students the opportunity to advocate for themselves.

“Whenever our students are given that chance to have those restorative conversations, one way or another, I think they’re going to have more of a sense of belonging to the school. They’re going to feel like they are cared for, that they really do matter, and that they really do belong here. That’s what I’m hoping in the long run.”

The staff at Jones is continuing to study restorative methods so they can help students even more as the year progresses.

“This is whole exploration that we’re excited about,” said Principal Griffin. “We are going to be doing a book study on Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain by Zaretta Hammond. We will be talking a lot about how and why. Why our brains work and why our brains shut down – the amygdala hijack." 

"Whenever we feel threatened, it’s either a flight or fight. If you don’t feel threatened, you can move forward. If you do feel threatened, then it shuts down right there. We have to learn, as teachers, how we’re going to keep that from happening. We’ve got to be cognizant of what we’re doing and what we’re saying to our students because if we shut their brains down, they’re not learning. It starts with the adults in the school because we have to figure out how to keep that from happening.”

If you want to learn more about restorative practices, click here.